Youth membership in the Order of the Arrow is gained through election by one’s own peers. It is one of the few organizations in which both non members and members vote in membership elections. A person is considered a youth in the OA until reaching the age of 21. Adult membership in the OA is gained by nomination.
Once a Scout is elected, he is considered a candidate, must take part in the OA Ordeal to become a member in the OA. A candidate has up to one year from election to participate in the Ordeal. Ordeals are held twice in the spring and once in the fall Prior to an Ordeal, the Candidate receives a Candidate letter of information, and a registration form. Ordeal registration is not automatic with election.
The Ordeal begins in the evening and lasts throughout the following day. At check-in registration, a Candidate is assigned a group, called a Clan, to participate with. An OA member called an Elangomat guides each clan. The Elangomat stays with the clan during the entire Ordeal. Throughout the Ordeal the Candidate learns about the OA and contributes to various service projects. If the Candidate is successful, an Ordeal sash with a red arrow is placed upon his shoulder at the Ordeal Ceremony. The sash signifies that he is now a member of the OA. Once a member, a person is considered a member for life.
However there is a difference between active and inactive membership. A member is considered active if his yearly Lodge dues are current, and is also a registered member with the BSA.
To become a full member in the OA, an Ordeal member must participate in the Brotherhood Ceremony. To be eligible for Brotherhood, an Ordeal member must be active for at least 10 months following the Ordeal, and must be registered with the BSA. Shortly before a Brotherhood Ceremony is to take place, the Ordeal member receives a Brotherhood letter of information, and a registration form. If successful, the Ordeal sash is replaced by a Brother sash with a red arrow and two red bars.
After at least two years of active participation as a Brotherhood member, and having also shown exceptional service, personal effort, and unselfish interest as an Arrowman, a member is eligible for nomination to the Vigil Honor. Both youths and adults can receive the distinction. Any Lodge member can submit a nomination to the Lodge Nomination committee. The committee reviews the nominations, and prospective honorees are petitioned to the National Lodge. If accepted, the choices are announced at the annual Lodge Banquet. To receive the honor, Arrowman must participate in the Vigil Honor ceremony. Upon successful completion, a sash with a red arrow, two red bars, and a red Vigil triangle replaces the Brotherhood sash.